God is now here
An atheist was writing an article for Christmas to prove that God did not exist. He wanted to finish his article with the sentence: ‘God is nowhere!’ Unfortunately, the sub editors made a mistake with his copy and so the final sentence of his article stated: ‘God is now here!’
This is the heart of the Christmas good news. We celebrate that God came to us in human form, as a vulnerable baby to a young woman called Mary. In very ordinary circumstances, Jesus was born in a particular place- the small town of Bethlehem on the edge of the Roman Empire and at a specific time – when Augustus was Emperor. St John says: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. St Matthew retells the words of the prophet: ‘the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel’ which means ‘God is with us’. God is now here.
For many this is unbelievable. Surely if God was to reveal himself to us he would just rend the heavens and come down. Indeed, a philosopher said: ‘some people seem to think that it would help if one day there was a large banner displayed in the sky saying, ‘I’m up here, you idiots.’
However, God seems to work not by breaking into the world but by embracing the world from within. In Charles Wesley’s carol, ‘Hark the herald Angels sing’, we sing the lines: ‘Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel’. Take away the traditional ‘man’ language and we see that God delights to be human alongside human beings. This carol tells of a God who does not have to be lured down from heaven by us being very polite to him or behaving extra well. We are dealing with a God who can’t help pouring himself out for the world that he has made. This is a God who doesn’t have to be persuaded to be interested in us.
Perhaps a first practical exercise in prayer is to approach God with this in mind: he is interested in us. Christmas teaches us to dispel the idea that God is essentially bored with us, rather removed from us and always in need of being kept sweet. He does not have to be persuaded to be on our side. As a former Archbishop of Canterbury said, ‘You might as well try to persuade a waterfall to be wet.’
In Bethlehem, God comes to us in the weakness of a baby. A lifetime later, at Calvary, he appeals to us in the helplessness of a man nailed to a cross. In Jesus, God beckons to us not by force or command but in solidarity and by identifying with us. He longs for us to recognise him and go to him.
God is now here. He values our humanity beyond all imagining. He shares our struggles as well as our joys. ‘Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.’ God is with us. God is for us. May you know the blessing of his presence this Christmas.